The scene of the crash on July 5 2014, on the Pacific Highway at Pimlico.
The scene of the crash on July 5 2014, on the Pacific Highway at Pimlico. Doug Eaton

Fatal phone call: No forgiveness for crash driver

ON JULY 5, 2014, a three-second phone call by Evans Head man Joshua Knapp while driving resulted in the death of much-loved Smiths Lakes couple John Campbell, 54, and Joanne Campbell, 59.

Yesterday, a remorseful 35-year-old Knapp - his right arm amputated and suffering constant pain as a result of the crash - was sentenced by Judge Laura Wells to three years and three months in prison with a one-year non-parole period for two counts of dangerous driving causing death.

The Campbells were driving south along the Pacific Hwy, 5km south of Ballina at Pimlico, when Knapp's northbound car hit theirs. The couple's car immediately burst into flames.

According to Judge Wells, collision reconstruction experts estimated Knapp was travelling at 111kmh in a 100kmh zone on the single-lane highway.

Mr and Mrs Campbell were found dead inside their car once the fire was extinguished.

A truck driver travelling behind the couple's Suzuki, which was travelling at 85km/h, saw Knapp's car clip the victims' vehicle. The truck driver managed to weave his way safely between the two cars.

Judge Wells said Knapp's inattention on the road caused by the phone call in combination with speed resulted in the two deaths.

Knapp had no prior convictions, a good driving record and had been employed by the Ballina Shire Council for 13 years.

Nevertheless, he called his employer twice on the way from his Evans Head home while driving to work, Judge Wells said.

In the first call, lasting 56 seconds, Knapp told his employer he was running late. The second call lasted just three seconds and was made four seconds before the crash.

As a result of the collision, Knapp suffered a severe brain injury and memory loss. He also had his right arm amputated in September 2015 following complications with reconstructive surgery.

Knapp now suffers from severe phantom pain in his non-existent forearm.

In determining the culpability of the offence, Judge Wells said she took into account Knapp's genuine remorse and the fact he was "confronted by what he had done" on a daily basis as a result of his injuries and mental and physical pain.

"There is no doubt his suffering should result in some reduction to sentencing," Judge Wells said.

However, she said the fact Knapp used his phone twice on the highway, "where many others were exposed to risk", was an aggravating factor to sentencing, as was the fact he was travelling 11kmh over the speed limit.

Judge Wells said his significant injuries "would make his time in custody more difficult".

"His life will be endangered because he cannot defend himself," she said. "Significant overcrowding in prisons and available resources mean there is a strong prospect that he will not get the treatment he should receive."

Judge Wells said state and federal governments had gone to great lengths to deter people from using phones while driving and that providing a "general deterrence" was a critical factor in sentencing.

A victim impact statement from one of the Campbells' children was read to the court, emphasising the "devastation" to the family and broader Smith Lakes community.

According to the statement, the Campbells "assisted many people and found joy in making other people happy".

The Campbells' son said he had "not yet reached forgiveness".

After sentencing, Knapp's mother broke down while saying goodbye to her son, and scrambled to give him the medication he would need to take while serving a minimum of one year in Silverwater prison.

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